Inaugural Chancellor’s Lecture on Global Racial Reckoning and Civility Energizes Standing-Room Only Crowd at Rutgers University–Camden

April 12, 2022

By Sam Starnes 

Sheryll Cashin—a noted scholar, author, and law professor—told more than 150 students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members packed into the Campus Center Multi-Purpose Room for the inaugural Rutgers University–Camden Chancellor’s Lecture on Global Racial Reckoning and Civility on Monday afternoon that although the nation’s history of segregation and systemic racism is long and its effects will be slow to change, she has hope for a brighter future.

An expert on race, class, and activism who is the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law, Civil Rights, and Social Justice at the Georgetown University Law Center, Cashin focused on the messages in her newest book, White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality, in which she explores the question, “Why is it we are so very segregated despite our fundamental values of equality?” Her lecture energized the crowd, many of whom had questions or comments of their own following her lecture and at a reception afterward.

Cashin’s address was the first Chancellor’s Lecture on Global Racial Reckoning and Civility, which will be an annual event. The lecture is one of “15 in 5” initiatives championed by Chancellor Antonio D. Tillis, a strategic plan to implement 15 initiatives in five years.

Cashin, who once was a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and whose father ran for governor of Alabama in 1970 against segregationist George Wallace, began with an examination of a local map created by Paul Jargowsky, a Rutgers–Camden professor of public policy and director of the Center for Urban Research and Education. The map showed distinct racial division and poverty levels in Philadelphia and South Jersey neighborhoods, and she noted that the Philadelphia-Camden area is one of 21 metropolitan areas in America that is “hypersegregated.”

She traced the formation of the racial and poverty divisions in neighborhoods in many of America’s cities to the Great Migration from southern states to the north and west. More than six million Blacks migrated from 1910 to the 1970s where they were forced into “their own neighborhoods,” she said. “They were contained, and I mean tightly compacted, using violence, racially restricted covenants, and redlining in which the neighborhoods which they populated were intentionally cut off from the kind of public and private investment that would rain down on white neighborhoods.”

Cashin also analyzed maps showing segregation of neighborhoods in Baltimore, Chicago (which she described as “a tale of two cities”), and Minneapolis. On the Minneapolis map, she noted the distinct racial and poverty divisions of neighborhoods and pointed out the spot where George Floyd was killed by police in 2020. “You see the direct correlation between concentrated Blackness and concentrated poverty,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize the George Floyd story is a story about segregation.”

She said the kind of “aggressive, violence-prone policing in the blackest, poorest neighborhoods” in Minneapolis that led to Floyd’s death wouldn’t have been tolerated in the city’s affluent white neighborhoods. “This is what systemic racism looks like,” she said. “It’s structural.”

In addition to excessive police surveillance, Cashin said segregated neighborhoods are perpetuated by boundary maintenance, which includes exclusionary zoning practices, and opportunity hoarding, which includes disinvestment in Black neighborhoods and investment in affluent white neighborhoods. She said that having difficult conversations about these issues is necessary to foment change. “As depressing as this is, the beauty of understanding the processes is that once you understand them, the way forward is clear,” she said. “We need to reverse them. We need to do the opposite.”

Cashin said she was encouraged that change can happen when she witnessed the nationwide outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s killing in 2020. She also applauded the work of the Fair Share Housing Center, a New Jersey nonprofit which has negotiated settlements with hundreds of New Jersey towns who have agreed to adopt mandatory inclusion zoning ordinances. She said her hope is that change can begin in progressive cities, which she said includes Philadelphia, and she cited a recent article she wrote, “Where MLK’s Vision is Starting to Be Realized,” which was published on the online news site POLITICO.

She noted, however, that seven decades of policies that created segregated neighborhoods cannot be changed overnight. “People need to realize this history is long,” she said. “People want change quickly. It doesn’t happen quickly. We are just beginning.”